I can’t get a handle on Christchurch. There are old-time trams on freshly laid tracks. It looks like a minor Swedish commercial hub expanded to fit the grid pattern of a city in Kansas. It’s as flat as a pancake with hills at its back so it appears as if some spilled batter is slowly oozing out to sea. This makes sense considering how many earthquakes it has suffered. They’ve rebuilt the cathedral spire so many times they may as well make the current one out of memory foam. There is enough surviving early 20th century quaintness to maintain continuity and much of the recent stuff is pretty decent looking. But there are big gaps all over the centre. If Auckland is Oceania’s Sly and the Family Stone, Christchurch is Keane. But the small Sunday night crowd in the pleasant James Hay Theatre get on their feet and, well…dance.…—More Tales
The plane descends over what looks a heavy Tasman Sea into a thick bank of cloud covering the land mass. Soon we’re in the soupy gloom that spells rain. The droplets form fast moving lines that angle upwards across the windows. The engines are muted in the enveloping moisture. The plane rocks and lurches a little. We peer downwards in search of the sight of terra firma. The rushing air catches the lowering landing gear with a great yawn. The coast appears dimly at a few hundred feet and we’re down in what appears to be Glasgow airport. This is the furthest any of us have ever been from home and it’s British weather. It’s a half hour trip in driving rain to our sky-tower digs. Modern. The Do Not Disturb is a button by your door that makes your room number glow red in the corridor.
I have a stormy sleep and wait in the morning for an interview that never happens. I tap at my laptop for an hour immersed in the simple task of admin. My friend Stephen from Hong Kong gets in touch and we have a Vietnamese lunch down on Barkly St. He explains some things about the post-Covid economy in China. I’m beginning to understand how far away from home we are here. On the other side of the world someone I know is in hospital and another is in a morgue. It’s thirty one degrees in Melbourne and nothing makes much sense.
I have a coffee and an ice cream in a shady cafe after a quick soundcheck. I notice what look like toothpaste stains on my black T-Shirt. I’m a grotty old codger in poorly cut-off jeans. A Scottish woman I met in Adelaide comes up and…—More Tales
Heading out to St Kilda from the airport we hit our first traffic jam of the trip. We skirt sluggishly around the skyline. Somebody has dumped a forest of graceless structures on the city we first fell for three decades ago. Grand theft auto. Jesus. Melbourne has been invaded by vulgar giants. Our hotel is a mite tatty but we’re at the beach, by the venue and in the thick of lots of cafes, bars and restaurants so we’re happy. St Kilda is still a two storey sort of zone. My 1st floor room looks directly onto a brick wall covered in bird shit. Two scruffy pigeons preen their oily plumage on a grimy dividing wall. Some yuccas just about reach the bottom of my window from the tiny courtyard below. Time to poke about the neighbourhood.
I walk across tram tracks down to the bay where the…—More Tales
I have an epic sleep – 2AM through to midday with only one stop for defuelling. I potter about with some emails and head off out. I aim for Story Bridge but I have no ambition to see anything. I’m going to weave about randomly. I step into a record shop for a bit, buying two things – Roberta Flack and The Impressions. Second-hand record shops are weird. No matter how long in the tooth, you always feel judged by the expert music geeks behind the counter. It’s always one or two blokes in obscure band T-Shits and they’re always about 48 and haven’t seen daylight since 1986. You wonder – do they think I’m a wanker, a dilettante? Am I betraying naivety in my rack riffling? Will they secretly scorn my pathetic selection? Ha! The fool has bought the dodgy Canadian reissue!
I take a river stroll…—More Tales
I have a patchy nap after the long morning of circadian chaos. At 1PM I make plans. I’ll head for the Brisbane Museum in the city and explore from there. The museum turns out to be a fairly predictable municipal affair housed in the handsome neoclassical city hall. There are a few rooms of generally hideous paintings with a couple of interesting cityscapes from the thirties, especially Vida Lahey’s Central Station 7:30am. A group portrait from 1952 by Margaret Cilento (Sunday in Moorooka) catches my eye as does a lovely small portrait which turns out to be by the same artist but in a different style. But there’s a lot of dross and many of the exhibits (as is the way) are for children. But it’s free and it’s air conditioned. I eschew a trip up the clock tower and head back into the throng of a very busy city…—More Tales
The jet zips up from the scorched runway into the limpid blue. We climb out over the St Vincent Gulf, pleasure craft below scraping white scars in the turquoise sea. We quickly turn landward and I see downtown beneath us, a small square of high-rise in an ocean of single storey suburb. At the city limits low hills lie thick with deep green canopy. Beyond that are parched looking farms plotted on a grid and peppered with single trees. It could be anywhere in the western United States. For a while we seem to follow the route of the huge meandering Murray River, clogged with sandy islands. The terrain takes on a motley aspect — stains of dark forest, patches of blindingly white sand and what look to me like salt lakes, curvilinear and milky green. All baking in the noonday sun. It’s an hour before I see any…—More Tales
After the second show I walk down to the river around midnight. A city of two million people and not a soul around. I peer up at the constellations in unfamiliar array. The brackish water of the Swan laps imperceptibly at the bank and I startle a couple of ducks lurking in the gloom who flap off to safety. The breeze is delicious to the skin. This is the most chilled major city I’ve ever been in. Everyone is so open and relaxed. There are no sideways smiles. In my room I watch an Attenborough show about a colony of king penguins. It’s like being thrown into Times Square.
We load our monstrous pile of bags into a little silver trailer on the back of a minibus and head for the airport under a sky of eggshell blue. The security hall is spacious and calm — nobody obnoxiously…—More Tales
We reunite at arrivals with our long lost colleague, Skip and are quickly at the hotel. It’s balmy out, with a gusty wind that carries rumours of the tropics. I march abroad in search of a bank, which I find and which miraculously regurgitates Australian dollars into my grasping hand. I’m flush so go looking for food. Downtown Perth is much like many US cities at night — built on a wide grid whose streets are lined with corporate towers in the modern style. The eucalyptuses lend it an exotic vibe and in between the glass and concrete red brick relics of the last century remind you where you are. I walk in to four or five restaurants all of which are full of customers but closed nonetheless. A humiliating little ritual. Nine o’clock is the witching hour round here. I opt for a 7/11, picking up a moth…—More Tales
After a luxury repast I get horizontal for the rest of the flight. Having put my watch on WA time I start with a breakfast. This causes mild confusion. The jet sails gently into the sunrise as I lie conked out in my noise cancelling headphones. I am not in the world. I listen to some audiobooks and rouse myself for the occasional sortie to the bog. On the approach I take in views of the Indian ocean through daubs of cloud. There’s still no sign of Australia from my side of the plane but it’s there on the tail plane camera on the screen at the front of the cabin. Good bit of slow TV, that. The map on my own screen tells me we’re heading towards the Moore river past Rottnest Island into Fremantle and Perth, so good they named it twice. Rottnest appears in my window…—More Tales
We re-lounge at Heathrow, surrounded by the snooty, the successful, and the sordid all wheeling their valuables around the polished tiles like plastic pets. We hike to the gate and as I take my swanky seat on the plane I see resentment and loathing in every face filing past. I usually ignore the smug business class passengers but if I do catch an eye, I’m sure mine are filled with hatred. Here I am. A comfortable cunt.
As we taxi out a baby cries, sounding like the ghost of someone in incredible pain. I have been issued with a stiff menu boasting of a “talented team of chefs” and claiming to have been “carefully curated”. It has a textured cover like the matted wallpaper you see in hotels. All three starters, including the soup, have been “roasted”. The engines groan and we rattle cumbersomely along the concrete. With…—More Tales
Long haul. The start goes smoothly. Guitars, packed two to a golf bag, are weighed and spirited away on a conveyor belt into a tunnel to tomorrow. I sit in the corridor outside the nob’s lounge where the others are toying with freebie croissants. It’s cool and peaceful and affords a view of the Kilpatrick hills, pale against an opaque sky. There’s a muted whirring from an air duct and jets whine politely beyond the windows. Airport hallways are the safest havens for the avoidance of advertising but there is a smattering of illuminated panels. Staff march by on phones in airline livery and hi-vis tabards. I’m sitting in the rushing sound of stillness. First stop Heathrow. Then the long haul.
I succumb to the lure of the group and join the rest in the lounge. Attendants sweep surreptitiously around, clearing dishes with a soft tinkle. We’re inured…—More Tales